Spanish Influence on Filipino Dances Spanish Influence on Filipino Dances
Spanish Influence on Filipino Dances
Philippine Dance in the Spanish Period
by Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz

European imperial ambitions spread to the Orient. Sanctioning this, the Roman Catholic Church played umpire to disputing nations by subdividing their playing fields. By that, the Philippines should not have been Spanish territory if not for Ferdinand Magellan chancing on it in 1521 and by Miguel Lopez Legaspi's establishment of government in 1565. After them the islands fell under Spanish suzerainty for more than three centuries.

Spain restructure the Filipino's lives in terms of politics, economics, religion and culture. This hispanization pervaded even the musical and choreographic practices of the people. Dances took on the tempo and temper of the European forms. For example, the noted Tinikling (which has had some Southeast Asian beginnings) and the Itik-itik (rustic and imitative like the other dances) acquired the tempo of the jota and the polka. Down to the research of Francisca Reyes Aquino, dances that did not have Western harmony were provided melodic accessibility, as in Pandanggo sa Ilaw and Subli.

Aside from modifying ritual, occupational and imitative dances, the Spaniards brought in their own dances. The most popular was the jota, later taking on numerous regional variations. Another was the fandango that was re-styled as pandanggo -- a dance that was once prescribed in Spain by Rome, it rivaled the jota in popularity. A step so common in many dances is the waltz, such as that found in the Cariņosa, Sayaw Santa Isabel, etc. In that way, the blase proliferated in dances for religious feasts, wedding and other social occasions. Still others were the paseo and the pateado (from zapateado).

From Cuba, the habanera with its syncopated interest and finding roots in many regions such as Pangasinan, Ilocos, Zambales, Capiz, etc. Outside of the direct Spanish territory came the Polish mazurka, the Czech polka, the Scottish schottische (renamed as escotis), and the French quadrille dances, like the rigaudon (turned into rigodon), pas de quatre (into pasakat) and lancers (into lanceros).

Intensively, the Filipinos combined several of these dances, so that the Polkabal and the Jotabal are noted examples. The Surtido is also one such invention, coming out in several regions.

With the brief presence of the British (owing to the Seven Years War, between 1762 and 1764) and their economic investments, there is such a dance as the Ba-Ingles. With the coming of the Americans, there was the Birginia, off the famous reel in America.

With the Catholic Church, ritual were Christianized as witnessed in the Bate (a waltz dance at Easter), the many pastores (shepherds dancing around at Christmas time), or the Sayaw sa Obando whiz is a waltz or pandanggo to plead for a wanted husband or child.

Spanish music-theater further popularized the European dances. The zarzuela (and the opera) had actresses who were also singers and dancers. Poet Flavio Zaragosa Cano praised the diva Patrocinio Carvajal (daughter of Patrocinio Tagaroma) as "Diosa del Baile." Other famous figures were Praxedes "Yeyeng" Fernandez (noted for her pandanggo and the condemned can-can in Pascual Bailon), Venancia Suzarra, Juana "Titay" Molina, Eulalia "Lalyang" Hernandez, Concepcion Cananea ("the songbird of Cebu") and to our time, Honorata "Atang" de la Rama.

A noted troupe of young dancers was formed by the Italian maestro Appiani. His Compania Infantil de Baile performed standard European dances in his choreographic mode.

Many of these dances would have been obscured with the influx of American influence at the turn of the Century. But with the pioneering research of Francisca Reyes Aquino and her followers, may of these dances were revived and documented. Starting at the University of the Philippines under the presidency of Jorge Bocobo, Aquino went out into the field and renewed the life of these dances through a folk dance group. This group was later followed by many others in the universities, such as Far Eastern University, University of the East, Philippine Women's University (Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company), Philippine Normal University (Baranggay Folk Dance Troupe), and in today's Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, Leyte Kalipayan Dance Troupe, U.P. Filipiniana Dance Troupe, and so many others throughout the islands. From out of these schools and private groups (like Obusan's or the defunct Filipinescas Dance Company of National Artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco), these European dances, modified by the needs and style of the Filipinos, were further seen in the rest of Asia, Australia, Europe, Russia and the Americans.

Meanwhile, Aquino's volumes on these dances (and those of her followers) are still prime references for these troupes and in dance instruction in schools in the Philippines.

about the author
[Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz] Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz  is a former English instructor at the University of the Philippines who danced with Modern Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines), Hariraya Ballet Company, involving himself much later with Dance Theater Philippines  as its balletmaster, choreographer and then artistic director. His recent choreographic works include: "Ritual Bonds", "Oriental Fantasy", "Ay Kalisud" (1990); and "Spiritual Canticle: An Eclogue-Operatorio" (1991).  He is the Artistic Director of the University of the Philippines Dance Company.

"Spanish Made Easy For Filipinos" main web page